Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: Witch & Wizard (Witch & Wizard #1) - James Patterson

Title:  Witch & Wizard (Witch & Wizard #1)
Author:  James Patterson
Genre:  Young Adult
Little, Brown and Company; December 2009
314 Pages, Paperback

Date Finished:  4.20.11
Why I Read It:  I had ordered this from Scholastic with classroom reading points.  I decided to read it first before suggesting it to my students. 
Rating:  3/5

Synopsis (From Barnes & Noble):

Imagine you wake up and the world around you-life as you know it-has changed in an instant. That's what has happened to Whit Allgood and his sister, Whisty. They went to sleep as normal teenagers, and woke up as wanted criminals. Accused of holding incredible powers they'd never dreamed possible. And now, just how different they are-special, even-if just beginning to be revealed in a strange new world.
My Thoughts:  Harry Potter meets Hunger Games.  That is how I introduced the book to my students this morning anyway (only not quite as good).  All it would have needed was vampires, and it would have had elements of the most popular young adult series of the last few years.  I guess there is a sequel I haven't read though so maybe vampires aren't that far off.  As an adult reading the book, I felt like the characters were dull and the plot was thin.  I was also very annoyed by the short, mini chapters.  Each chapter was only 2-3 pages long.   Now with that said, I think that Patterson might be on to something here with the short chapters.  Even my best students have pretty short attention spans.  Here is my verdict....Adults - skip it...teenagers - maybe, but the book falls short of Harry Potter and the Hunger Games.   

Monday, April 18, 2011

What Are You Reading? - Monday

I've decided to host a weekly "What Are You Reading?" post every Monday.  I've always found it fascinating to see what other people are reading, as you can really tell quite a bit about a person by the books they choose to read.  At least I think so.  I always encourage my students to talk about what is up next.  You'd be surprised how excited they get.  Anyway, what are you reading this week and what is up next?

Currently Reading:

Club Dead (Sookie Stackhouse #3)
By:  Charlaine Harris

Synopsis (from Barnes &

"Sookie's boyfriend has been very distant-in another state, distant. Now she's off to Mississippi to mingle with the underworld at Club Dead-a little haunt where the vampire elite go to chill out. But when she finally finds Bill-caught in an act of betrayal-she's not sure whether to save him...or sharpen some stakes."

Next Up: 

 Same Kind of Different As Me 
 By:  Ron Hall & Denver More

Synopsis (from Barnes &

"Meet Denver, a man raised under plantation-style slavery in Louisiana in the 1960s; a man who escaped, hopping a train to wander, homeless, for eighteen years on the streets of Dallas, Texas. No longer a slave, Denver's life was still hopeless-until God moved. First came a godly woman who prayed, listened, and obeyed. And then came her husband, Ron, an international arts dealer at home in a world of Armani-suited millionaires. And then they all came together.
But slavery takes many forms. Deborah discovers that she has cancer. In the face of possible death, she charges her husband to rescue Denver. Who will be saved, and who will be lost? What is the future for these unlikely three? What is God doing?
Same Kind of Different As Me is the emotional tale of their story: a telling of pain and laughter, doubt and tears, dug out between the bondages of this earth and the free possibility of heaven. No reader or listener will ever forget it."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Book Review: Fools Rush In (Weddings by Bella #1) by Janice Thompson

Title:  Fools Rush In (Weddings by Bella #1)
Author:  Janice Thompson
Genre:  Christian Fiction
Baker Publishing Group, September 2009
272 Pages, B&N Nook

Date Finished:  4.16.11
Why I Read It:  Free Download from B&
Rating:  3/5

Summary: Bella Rossi was stunned when her parents announced she would be taking over the family wedding planning business.  She was even more surprised when her first booking was a country-western themed extravaganza.  What did her pizza-making, Frank Sinatra listening Italian family know about Country Western Music?  Absolutely nothing.  With some luck, she finds herself the perfect DJ for the job, who just may be the perfect man for her - only if he survives her quirky, crazy family first.   

      Alright, this is the first book I have read by Janice Thompson, and her writing style actually reminded me a bit of Janet Evanovich (cleaned up that is!).  The story was light with quirky characters and a fun plot.  Even though I enjoyed reading the book, I do think the characters needed to be developed a bit more and the plot thickened a bit. 

     There were numerous points in the book where I predicted what would happen next without much prompting.  When this happens, I usually think the author's use of foreshadowing is fantastic.  Unfortunately, Thompson is just plain predictable.  The protagonist also had an awkward way of asking unneeded rhetorical questions to herself throughout the novel.  Regardless, I did enjoy the quick read and may pick up the rest of the series, but only if I can get them for free.  It's worth a library checkout, but I wouldn't recommend purchasing the book. 

Author's Website:  Janice Thompson

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Taco Casserole Bake / Banana Pudding

I've been trying quite a few new recipes, so it is time to update the blog.  Here are a couple that I tried tonight. 
This first recipe is a delicious, easy, fairly healthy alternative to tacos.  It is a MUST TRY if you love Mexican cuisine. 

Taco Casserole Bake
Adapted from
Serves: 6

2-3 oz. Blue Tortilla Chips (Any type of tortilla chip can be substituted)
1 T. canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. 93% lean ground turkey (or ground beef)
1 package reduced - sodium taco seasoning
15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 c. salsa (I use hot.)
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese

1.)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.)  In a large skillet, heat the oil and saute onions and garlic until softened.  Add turkey and cook until browned.
3.)  Add taco seasoning and salsa.  Mix.
4.)  Add beans.  Mix together well.
5.)  Break chips into bite-size pieces.  Spread evenly into the bottom of a lightly sprayed 9x13 inch pan. 
6.)  Evenly spread the meat mixture over the chips.  Sprinkle cheese on top.
7.)  Bake for 20 minutes.

Add toppings - sour cream, jalapenos, black olives, or any other toppings. 

Recipe #2:  Ben loves banana cream pie.  I found this recipe and couldn't pass up the chance to try it.  It's a cinch. 

Banana Pudding
Adapted from
Serves:  12

1 (8 oz.) package of cream cheese, softened
1 (14 oz.) can of sweetened condensed milk
1 (5 oz.) package instant vanilla pudding mix
3 cups cold milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 (8 oz.) container cool whip, thawed
4 bananas, sliced
1/2 (12 oz.) package vanilla wafers

1.)  In a large bowl, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in condensed milk until smooth.  Add pudding mix, cold milk, and vanilla; beat until smooth.  Fold in 1/2 of cool whip.

2.)  Line the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish with vanilla wafers.  Arrange sliced bananas evenly over wafers. Spread the pudding mix over bananas.  Top with remaining cool whip.  Chill.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine's Day Breakfast

There are many ways a wife can show her husband how much she loves and appreciates him.  It didn't take me very long to find the way to Ben's heart - through his stomach.  That and weird Science Fiction movies.  Anyway, this year Valentine's Day falls on a Monday, and I was immediately ticked off.  Ben has class every Monday until 8:00, and apparently Valentine's Day is not a good enough reasons for a law school to cancel classes.  After much pouting, whining, and complaining (by yours truly), we decided to just celebrate V-Day on Sunday.  So I woke up early and made Ben a breakfast of all his favorite foods - Honey Cornbread Muffins, Egg Bake, and Homemade Hashbrowns.  He slept for another 2 hours and then read the paper for an hour.  Aren't I a nice wife? 
Enjoy the recipes!

Honey Cornbread Muffins
12 Muffins
I've been making these for a couple of years.  I believe they were adapted from, but I do not remember for sure. 

1 c. yellow cornmeal
1 c. all-purpose flour (1/2 wheat and 1/2 white works fine)
1 T. baking powder
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. salt
1 c. milk
2 eggs
1/2 stick butter, melted
1/4 c. honey

1.)  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line muffin pan with paper muffin cups.
2.)  Mix cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt.
3.)  In another bowl  whisk milk, eggs, butter, and honey.
4.)  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients.  Pour into muffin pan - fill to the top.
5.)  Bake 15 minutes until golden and toothpick comes out clean.

Brunch Egg Bake
adapted from
Serves:  4
I cut the original recipe in half, so my version can easily be doubled.

1 c. cheddar cheese, shredded
1 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 (4 oz) jar, mushroom stems and pieces, no salt added
1/4 c. red pepper, chopped
2 tsp. canola oil
3 T. sliced green onions
1 c. ham, diced and cooked
4 eggs
3/4 c. + 2 T. milk
1/4 c. flour (whole wheat worked just fine for me)
about 1/2 T. parsley, dried (The original recipe called for 1 T. fresh)
1/4 tsp. basil, dried
salt and pepper

1.)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2.)  Shred and combine cheeses.  Place 1 cup (half) in an greased 8x8 baking dish and set aside.
3.)  In a medium skillet, saute mushrooms, onions and red pepper in canola oil until tender; drain.
4.) Place over cheese; top with ham. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.
5.)  In a bowl, beat eggs. Add milk, flour, parsley, basil, salt and pepper; mix well. Slowly pour over the cheese.
6.)  Bake at 350 degrees F for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Let stand 10 minutes before cutting. 


Homemade Hash browns
Serves 2
Ben was complaining a couple of weeks ago how I never let him buy frozen hash browns anymore, so I came up with these.  They turned out really well!

1.)  Peel 2-3 Potatoes
2.)  Grate using a cheese grater and soak up excess moisture with paper towels. 
3.)  Put in a microwave safe container and microwave for 3 minutes. 
4.)  Heat a pan with 2-3 tsp. of canola oil on medium heat. 
5.)  Place shredded potatoes in pan and flatten with spatula.  Cook on both sides until lightly browned. 
6.)  Turn burner to high and sear the outside. 

And the final result....
Our breakfasts usually include a little more healthy food - such as fruit or yogurt, but you don't celebrate V-Day every day of the year!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Book: The Passage by Justin Cronin
Rating: A
Genre: SF/Fiction
Age Appropriate: Adult

The Passage by Justin Cronin is a character driven book that moonlights as a SF/fantasy novel. All hell breaks loose after a military-industrial experiment to create super-soldiers spills into the suburbs, killing 90%, infecting about 10%, and leaving only a few hardy survivors unharmed. The book patiently describes the sudden apocolypitic collapse of american civilization before settling down on a band of protagonists around the year 2100. The heroes struggle against all odds in an attempt to cure, or at least understand, the vampiric plague devastating their world.

Yes, this is a vampire novel. They're so hot right now. But I would characterize the antagonists more as zombies than vampires, though with somewhat higher mental capacity.

The book is mammoth, a grand epic spanning some 800 pages, with two concurrent sequels (and movies!) on the way. The author skillfully brings together a large cast of complex, three dimensional characters to build a surprising and complex plot. I really hope the sequels are not mere re-anglings of the same idea.

I enjoyed this book immensely. However, there were a few annoying problems. First, I'm not sure that much from our disposable culture can survive 100 years of neglect wind and rain. Canned goods lose palatability after that many decades. Windmill turbines rust out in under 50 years. Though I suppose I shouldn't gripe about realism in a novel about vampires, should I? Also, most of the relationships and subplots develop really well, but some kind of fall apart or vanish mysteriously. Again, hard to complain when the author does such a great job at making the reader emotionally invest in the characters.

I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone who likes to read. If you're not a reader, than better stick to TV.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Book:  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Rating:  A-
Genre:  Fiction
Age Appropriate:  Adult

Jacob Jankowski's world turned upside down just before his final exams in Veterinary school.  After untimely deaths leave him with virtually with nothing, he finds himself on a train that is home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  As a 90-something year old man, he retells the sensational and unique encounters and experiences that were part of circus life. 

From what I hear, Robert Patterson will be starring in the movie version of this book, which will come out in April.  Before a book-based movie comes out, I always try to make a point to read the book first and was pleasantly surprised by this one.  After finding a $5.00 download at B&, I finished the very well-written book in only a few days.  Sometimes I get bogged down reading the same types of books, such as mysteries, science fiction, etc.  This was a nice break.  It gave me a glimpse into a world that I have never experienced with tastes of action, compassion, humor, and love.   In short, I've never read a book quite like it before, and I definitely recommend it!